The U.S. Department of Agriculture has named 15 people to a committee providing advice on changes in Tongass National Forest management. The main topic is how to transition to second- or young-growth timber harvests.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack already told Tongass managers to begin changing from old-growth to younger tree harvests.
But that’s not an easy thing to do.
The advisory committee’s charge is to find a compromise that loggers, environmentalists, tribal groups and government agencies can agree on. (See who’s on the committee. Or scroll down to the bottom of this story.)
Other panels have made similar efforts without coming up with a solution. But Tongass Supervisor Forrest Cole says this one can work.
“One of the key criteria for selection was people’s ability to collaborate and find common ground. And I think with our selections, we’ve got the majority of people in that,” Cole says.
The advisory committee is part of the effort to update the 2008 Tongass Land Management Plan.
The directive from the agriculture secretary, who oversees the U.S. Forest Service, is to change to a young-growth model within 10 to 15 years. In the meantime, the Tongass is expected to provide enough trees to maintain a viable timber industry.
Cole says that couldn’t be done now. That’s because the oldest young growth is largely outside areas where logging is allowed.
“What we’re going to ask this group to look at is if it’s applicable to bring some of that in. If it is, then we’ll be able to begin harvest or management of those stands without any additional help with regulations. If not, we would be looking at relaxation of some of our management policies,” Cole says.
Committee members are from all sides of the timber issue.
Two are on the board of the pro-development Southeast Conference.
Executive Director Shelly Wright says it will push an alternative land-management strategy. Among other things, it would consider state and Sealaska property, along with Tongass lands.
“It manages the entire forest, rather than just putting circles around specific areas. So the footprint of logging and the footprint of economic development and the footprint of habitat is spread across the land mass,” Wright says.
The Tongass Advisory Committee also includes three environmental representatives.
Southeast Alaska Conservation Council Executive Director Malena Marvin says they will represent her interests well. But she’s disappointed the transition is not happening faster.
“The truth is that Southeast Alaska can’t afford another 10 to 15 years of industrial-scale old-growth logging. It’s not time to transition to another industrial forestry economy. It’s time to transition to supporting local wood manufacturers that are going to be a strong part of our local economy,” Marvin says.
Such differences will become evident during the advisory committee’s work.
The earlier effort, called the Tongass Futures Roundtable, required a large number of people with widely differing views to reach consensus.
Cole says the new advisory committee will have looser rules.
“So we still have a consensus-based approach here. But it’s two out of three of each interest group,” Cole says.
Committee members also include two executives of the Sealaska regional Native corporation. It’s backing federal legislation that would turn Tongass timberlands over to the business.
Others are tribal government leaders, state officials and municipal leaders.
The 15 committee members, plus five alternates, will begin meeting in July. Their recommendations are due the following May.
The committee members are:
- Jaeleen J. Araujo: Sealaska Attorney; Juneau
- Wayne K. Benner; City Administrator, Thorne Bay
- Kirk A. Hardcastle; Commercial Fisherman, Juneau
- Philip A. Hyatt; Small Mill Owner, Thorne Bay
- Lynn Jungwirth; The Watershed Research and Training Center, Hayfork, CA
- Chris Maisch; State Forester, Fairbanks
- Brian T. McNitt; Alaska Conservation Foundation, Sitka
- Eric L. Nichols; Alcan Logging, Ketchikan
- Richard J. Peterson; Executive Director, Tlingit-Haida Central Council, Juneau
- Keith E. Rush; Conservation Forester, The Nature Conservancy, Juneau
- Carol M. Rushmore; Municipal Economic Development Director, Wrangell
- Erin Steinkruger; Tatoosh School, Prince of Wales island and Portland, OR
- Andrew L. Thoms; Sitka Conservation Society, Sitka, AK
- Woody Widmark; Sitka Tribe of Alaska, Sitka, AK;
- Wade Zammit; Sealaska Timber Corp., East Sound, WA
- Leslie A. Cronk; Ketchikan
- Jason R. Custer; Alaska Power and Telephone, Ketchikan
- Robert D. Mills; CEO at Kake Tribal Corpoation, Kake
- Christopher W. Rose; Sutton,
- Kathryn A. Troll; Juneau Assembly member, Juneau